County Council divided on Mountain Accord
Summit County Council members are divided on whether to sign the Mountain Accord Interlocal Agreement and whether or not the county should even remain a party in the discussions.
To continue participating, the county would be expected to contribute another $150,000 over three years. They already contributed $50,000 between 2013 and 2014.
Wednesday night, County Council members weighed in on the Mountain Accord initiative and the benefits the county has to gain from the ambitious plans being proposed.
The Mountain Accord initiative is an attempt to create a cohesive plan for the central Wasatch Mountains to address growth and development issues related to the environment, transportation, the economy and recreation.
"I’m not sure what the direct benefit to Summit County is," Council member Roger Armstrong said. "The global, ‘we live in Utah, we live in central Wasatch,’ I get that. But I have one question: how substantial is our input?
"I feel like at the end of the day, as we go though this process, we are in a position where we are kind of hanging on and writing a check in the hopes that we will get some unnamed benefit to solve our transportation problems," he added. "That’s my concern. I’m just unsure."
The Mountain Accord Interlocal Agreement, among more than 20 entities, including Summit County, Park City, Wasatch County, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, defines the funding amounts through 2017.
Council members expressed concern that continued participation could be "construed as acquiescence" when, as a whole, the County Council is against certain significant elements of the proposed Central Wasatch blueprint, especially a connection between Wasatch Back and Salt Lake Valley.
"We didn’t discuss Little Cottonwood Canyon’s specific problems in any of our transportation meetings," Armstrong said. "We understand that the Cottonwood Canyons have challenges They have very real problems and they deserve to be able to find some solutions and have some assistance. If we’ve had more concrete discussions about it, I think I would feel better. But it feels like that ridgeline going south, southwest is going to be addressed first and we may be an afterthought.
"In terms of leaving the process, I’m reluctant to leave the process," he said. "Maybe it’s the same reluctance to walk away from a car accident. But I think I would like to stay in."
Council member Claudia McMullin said she needs "to be persuaded one way or the other because I’m on the fence."
"What are the benefits and what is the downside to staying involved?" McMullin asked the County Council. "If we are going to stay in this process, we need to make sure everyone is very clear we are not for that connection."
Council Chair Kim Carson said after her recent trip to Europe to study transportation systems, she wants to stay in the discussions to "see what we can get out of it."
"We saw amazing examples of great transportation systems," Carson said, adding it was used "everyday, all day long."
"I think it is worth going through and having the study completed. I also think we need to stay at the table to get some guidance because we need to settle our issues," she said.
County Council member Chris Robinson, who also serves as the vice chair of the Mountain Accord executive board, also wants the county to stay involved to prevent missing a "potential opportunity."
"I think we will miss an opportunity to get help with the large transit and transportation issues that face us," Robinson said. "I agree with Roger that most of the environmental issues are Cottonwood Canyon-centric and many recreational issues are likewise that.
"But the economic issues are connected and I think the state is interested in Mountain Accord because it will create a new economic story to tell," he added. "I think we are part of that story and our challenge is to figure out a way to be part of that story by helping us and not hurting us."
Robinson said if the county pulls out of the conversations it could be "negatively viewed" and the process will still "go on without us."
"I think the biggest risk is we are going to be overlooked," he said. "I think we should do everything we can to preserve our exit ramps and vetoes. I think, provided that we can assure exit ramps, it would be in our favor to go forward with the studies."
County Council members have until March 16 to take public comment before deciding whether to approve the agreement.
Council member Dave Ure remained relatively quiet throughout the nearly hour-long discussion, saving his comments for the end.
Ure said he repeatedly asks himself, "What can the Mountain Accord do for Summit County in the next 10 years?"
"How are they going to resolve our problems from Deer Valley out to the freeway?" he asked. "And I don’t see Mountain Accord doing that for us."
Ure said he’s "not afraid of the $150,000," but fails to see the direct benefits for the county. Park City will stay in the discussion even if the county drops out, Ure said.
"And I believe they will represent us at the table on most issues," he said. "But I believe this table is a lot like being a Democrat in the Utah House of Representatives. I’m torn about staying at the table only to stay at the table. I personally do not believe Mountain Accord will help Summit County valley. Just because we can go through the mountain and over the mountain, doesn’t mean we should."
The County Council is soliciting public input on the Mountain Accord and any questions or comments regarding the county’s involvement can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org , with "Mountain Accord" noted in the subject line.
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